The two law variations will be used for the first time when preseason matches begin this weekend, two weeks before the Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa season kicks off on Friday, 26 February.
The innovations, which have World Rugby Executive Committee approval, have been introduced after extensive feedback and collaboration with players, coaches and referees, and follow the successful introduction of golden point and red card replacement rules in 2020, both of which will continue in 2021.
A goal line drop-out will occur when an attacking player carrying the ball is held up in the in-goal or knocks the ball on in the in-goal area, or when an attacking kick, other than a penalty or drop goal attempt, is grounded by the defending team in their in-goal area.
A captain’s referral will see each captain given one opportunity per match to ask the referee to have the Television Match Official (TMO) check for an infringement in the lead up to a try, or to review foul play.
- Captains will have 10 seconds to make their referral after a try has been awarded.
- The TMO will be able to go back to the last stoppage in play, regardless of how many phases have been played.
- Foul play referrals can be made after any stoppage in play if the captain believes foul play has been missed by the match officials.
- Captain’s must reference ‘specific’ incidents or infringements.
- Footage must be ‘clear and obvious’ for a referral to be upheld.
- The scrum and lineout are not included in the referral process.
If the referring captain is correct, they will retain their referral, but if the referee’s original decision stands, or the TMO footage is not ‘clear and obvious’, the captain loses their referral.
The captain’s referral will be applied more broadly from the 75-minute mark in any match at which point the captain, provided they have not already lost their referral, can use it to check any referee’s decision, regardless of whether a try has been scored.
NZR Head of High Performance Mike Anthony said the aim of the law variations was to make the game more attractive for both players and fans.
“We’re constantly looking at how we can make the game faster and fairer for players, and a better spectacle for fans and we’re hopeful the goal line drop-out and captain’s referral will go some way to achieving those objectives in 2021.”
The rationale for introducing the goal line drop-out was to reward attacking teams by allowing them to build pressure and to encourage defending teams to clear the ball from their in-goal area, Anthony said.
“We’ve had great support for this innovation from coaches and players and we’re confident it will be popular with fans.
“The current re-start rule of a 22-metre drop-out often pushes the receiving team well back into their own half and we think teams will be more likely to counter-attack from a goal line drop-out, which will in turn lead to more attacking pressure and hopefully more tries.”
NZR National Referee’s Manager Bryce Lawrence said the captain’s referral would bring players into the on-field decision making process, make the game safer by adding another level of scrutiny to foul play, and mitigate the risk of matches being decided in the final stages by an incorrect referee’s call.
“We think the captain’s referral is a no-brainer. Nobody wants to see a match decided on a wrong call, particularly in the final minutes, and especially in a competition as fiercely and closely contested as Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa was in 2020.
“When a match goes down the wire and hangs on a referee’s decision, everyone wants to make sure we get a positive outcome.
“Rugby is a fast-paced and, at times complex game, so another set of eyes is always a good thing. We’ve seen this sort of concept succeed in other sports and we want to see how it goes when applied to rugby.”
A full breakdown of the goal line drop-out and captain’s referral is below:
Goal line drop-out
1. When an attacking player carrying the ball is held up in the in-goal or knocks the ball on in the in-goal, play restarts with a goal line drop-out.
2. When a kick (excluding a penalty kick, drop kick attempt, kick-off or play restart kick) goes into the in-goal area and is grounded, or otherwise made dead by the defending team, play restarts with a goal line drop-out.
- The drop-out is taken on or behind the defending team’s goal line.
- The drop-out must be taken without delay. The ball must cross the 5m line.
- If the drop-out is not executed correctly the receiving team has the option of asking for the kick to be retaken or being awarded a 5m scrum.
- If the kick is taken on the full by a defender in their in-goal area, the defender may claim a mark and play restarts with a free kick on the 5m line in line with the place of the mark.
- If a player from the attacking team causes the ball to go into touch-in-goal or over the dead-ball line, then the defending team will have the option of taking a 22m drop out or a scrum at the place that the ball was kicked.
- If the ball crosses the 5m line but then bounces, is blown back by the wind or deflected back, play continues.
- If a goal line drop-out goes out on the full, the receiving team has the option of either: asking for a re-kick, a scrum feed on the 5m line in line with where the kick was taken, or throwing to a lineout on the 5m line.
- The receiving team must be back at least 5m and cannot charge the kick. The sanction for charging the kick is a free kick 10m up field.
- The team receiving the ball from a goal line drop-out, can not score a dropped goal until the ball has gone through one phase of play.
- If the ball hits the kicking team’s posts during a goal line drop-out and the ball goes dead, then the receiving team has the option of a 5m attacking scrum in line with where the kick was taken or can ask for a re-kick.
There are three scenarios under which a captain’s referral can be made:
1. For an infringement before a try is scored, at any time from the last restart in play. (Previously, the TMO could only go back two phases).
2. Foul Play: A captain can refer a referee to an act of foul play he thinks has been missed by the match officials.
3. After the 75-minute mark, including any period of extra time, the captain can use his referral to challenge any referee’s decision, not just those leading to a try.
How it will work
- Captains get one referral per match.
- When he wants to use his referral, the captain will tell the referee what they want checked and confirm they are using their captain’s referral. For example: “Ref, we think there was a knock on at the last ruck before this try. Can you check please.”
- The referee will ask the TMO to look at the footage and advise whether the referral was correct, or not.
- Once a ruling has been made on the referral, play will resume.
- If the captain’s referral is correct, then they get to keep that referral to use again.
- If they are incorrect and their referral is over-ruled, they lose it.
- The captain must make a referral within 10 seconds of a try being scored, a referee’s decision, or a stoppage in play.
- The captain must be specific about what they are referring.
- Anything referred must be ‘clear and obvious’ in the TMO’s review.
- The captain cannot use his referral to stop play following a quick tap penalty or quick throw-in.
- Scrum and lineout are not part of the referral process